So many symptoms that are staples of gastroenterology—chest pain, nausea, diarrhea—are mainstay causes for hospitalization that it might be worth fine-tuning how well you handle patients with gastroenterology disorders.
The Hospitalist asked several gastroenterologists for their guidance on better care and their suggestions for correcting some common mistakes that they encounter. Here are their tips:
1 Fluid resuscitation is crucial for pancreatitis patients.
It’s very important to rehydrate these patients within the first 24 hours, because those who remain underhydrated can have a worse prognosis, says Robert Coben, MD, academic coordinator for the Gastroentestinal Fellowship Program at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. On occasion, physicians are reluctant to give extra fluids to these patients, he says, particularly if they have heart failure or suffer kidney problems. A 70-kg patient should be receiving about 200 cc per hour, he notes.
“Sometimes we’ll walk in the room and they’re getting 80 cc an hour,” Dr. Coben says.
“These patients…need to be flooded with fluids,” says Rajeev Jain, MD, chief of gastroenterology at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, partner at Texas Digestive Disease Consultants, and chair of the Practice Management and Economics Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association. “We’re talking sometimes liters and liters of IV normal saline or lactated Ringer’s (solution) in a 24-hour period.”1
Marcelo Vela, MD, a gastroenterologist and hepatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., and an associate editor with Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, says Ringer’s solution is a better choice than normal saline.2
“If you’re going to start IV fluids on somebody who’s coming in with acute pancreatitis, Ringer’s solution has been shown to be superior to saline in randomized controlled trials,” Dr. Vela says. “It reduces systemic inflammation.”
2 Gastrointestinal bleeding decisions
When inpatients have gastrointestinal bleeding, the hospitalist often has to assess its severity and make the call on whether a patient needs the ICU.
“The most important thing for that is obviously the vital signs,” says John Pandolfino, MD, chief of the division of medicine–gastroenterology and hepatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “If people are tachycardic and they’re not responding to hydration and blood transfusion, that usually means it’s a pretty active bleed and they need to go to the intensive care unit. If you have somebody who’s GI bleeding and they’re coagulopathic (i.e., they’re on anti-coagulation because they have a valve and they need anti-coagulation or they have cancer or bad cardiovascular disease), those are the people that you should have a low threshold for sending to the intensive care unit with a GI bleed; those are the people who are at a very high mortality [risk].”
He added that those with an ulcer, with a visible vessel, are at a high-risk of a rebleed and should spend some time in the ICU.
“Those people should be evaluated in the intensive care unit for at least 24 hours, maybe even 72 hours,” Dr. Pandolfino says, “and they should have IV PPI [proton pump inhibitor] therapy.”
3 Endoscopy has very low yield for diagnosis of reflux.
“Endoscopy has good yield for mucosa abnormalities on inspection of the esophageal mucosa, but it does not give you a diagnosis of reflux, especially on patients who have already been treated with a PPI,” says Prakash Gyawali, MD, MRCP, professor of gastroenterology at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. “So, usually, in those settings, obtaining a consult or trying to decide exactly what you’re looking for to explain the symptoms has better yield than an endoscopy.”